Margaret Hamilton, Lead Software Engineer of the Apollo Project, Stands Next to Her Code That Took Us to the Moon (1969)

Photo courtesy of MIT Museum

When I first read news of the now-infamous Google memo writer who claimed with a straight face that women are biologically unsuited to work in science and tech, I nearly choked on my cereal. A dozen examples instantly crowded to mind of women who have pioneered the very basis of our current technology while operating at an extreme disadvantage in a culture that explicitly believed they shouldn’t be there, this shouldn’t be happening, women shouldn’t be able to do a “man’s job!”

The memo, as Megan Molteni and Adam Rogers write at Wired, “is a species of discourse peculiar to politically polarized times: cherry-picking scientific evidence to support a pre-existing point of view.” Its specious evolutionary psychology pretends to objectivity even as it ignores reality. As Mulder would say, the truth is out there, if you care to look, and you don’t need to dig through classified FBI files. Just, well, Google it. No, not the pseudoscience, but the careers of women in STEM without whom we might not have such a thing as Google.




Women like Margaret Hamilton, who, beginning in 1961, helped NASA “develop the Apollo program’s guidance system” that took U.S. astronauts to the moon, as Maia Weinstock reports at MIT News. “For her work during this period, Hamilton has been credited with popularizing the concept of software engineering." Robert McMillan put it best in a 2015 profile of Hamilton:

It might surprise today’s software makers that one of the founding fathers of their boys’ club was, in fact, a mother—and that should give them pause as they consider why the gender inequality of the Mad Men era persists to this day.

Hamilton was indeed a mother in her twenties with a degree in mathematics, working as a programmer at MIT and supporting her husband through Harvard Law, after which she planned to go to graduate school. “But the Apollo space program came along” and contracted with NASA to fulfill John F. Kennedy’s famous promise made that same year to land on the moon before the decade’s end—and before the Soviets did. NASA accomplished that goal thanks to Hamilton and her team.

Photo courtesy of MIT Museum

Like many women crucial to the U.S. space program (many doubly marginalized by race and gender), Hamilton might have been lost to public consciousness were it not for a popular rediscovery. “In recent years,” notes Weinstock, "a striking photo of Hamilton and her team’s Apollo code has made the rounds on social media.” You can see that photo at the top of the post, taken in 1969 by a photographer for the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory. Used to promote the lab’s work on Apollo, the original caption read, in part, “Here, Margaret is shown standing beside listings of the software developed by her and the team she was in charge of, the LM [lunar module] and CM [command module] on-board flight software team.”

As Hank Green tells it in his condensed history above, Hamilton “rose through the ranks to become head of the Apollo Software development team.” Her focus on errors—how to prevent them and course correct when they arise—“saved Apollo 11 from having to abort the mission” of landing Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon’s surface. McMillan explains that “as Hamilton and her colleagues were programming the Apollo spacecraft, they were also hatching what would become a $400 billion industry.” At Futurism, you can read a fascinating interview with Hamilton, in which she describes how she first learned to code, what her work for NASA was like, and what exactly was in those books stacked as high as she was tall. As a woman, she may have been an outlier in her field, but that fact is much better explained by the Occam’s razor of prejudice than by anything having to do with evolutionary determinism.

Note: You can now find Hamilton's code on Github.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Neil deGrasse Tyson is Creating a New Space Exploration Video Game with the Help of George R.R. Martin & Neil Gaiman

Although Neil deGrasse Tyson is somewhat hesitant to go in on plans to terraform and colonize Mars, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like a good ol’--yet science-based--video game. Several outlets announced recently that the videogame Space Odyssey, spearheaded by deGrasse Tyson--one of America’s main defenders of logic and Enlightenment--has surpassed its Kickstarter funding goal. The game promises to send players on “real science-based missions to explore space, colonize planets, create and mod in real time."

In the game, according to deGrasse Tyson, “you control the formation of planets, of comets, of life, civilization. You could maybe tweak the force of gravity and see what effect that might have.” It will be, he says, “an exploration into the laws of physics and how they shape the world in which we live.”

The game has been forming for several years now, and most importantly to our readers, has called in several sci-fi and fantasy writers to help create the various worlds in the game, as they have aptly demonstrated their skills in doing so on the printed page. That includes George R.R. Martin, currently ignoring whatever HBO is doing to his creation Game of Thrones; Neil Gaiman, who creates a new universe every time he drops a new novel; and Len Wein, who has had a hand in creating both DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Wolverine. Also on board: deGrasse Tyson’s buddy Bill Nye, former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino, and astrophysicist Charles Liu.

The idea of world/galaxy-building is not new in video games, especially recently. No Man’s Sky (2015) features “eighteen quintillion full-featured planets” and Minecraft seems limitless. But Space Odyssey (still a temporary title!) is the first to have deGrasse Tyson and friends working the controls in the background. And a game is as good as the visionaries behind it.

 

According to the Kickstarter page, the raised funds will go into “the ability to have this community play the game and engage with it while the final build is underway. As the Kickstarter gaming community begins to beta test game-play and provide feedback, we can begin to use the funds raised via Kickstarter to incorporate your modding, mapping and building suggestions, together building the awesome gaming experience you helped to create.”

DeGrasse Tyson will be in the game himself, urging players onward. There’s no indication whether Mr. Martin will be popping up, though.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: “Because of Pink Floyd, I’ve Spent Decades Undoing the Idea That There’s a Dark Side of the Moon”

In 1973, Pink Floyd released their influential concept album, The Dark Side of the Moon, which garnered both critical and commercial success. The album sold some 45 million copies, and remained on Billboard's Top LPs & Tapes chart for 741 weeks (from 1973 to 1988). All of which was great for Pink Floyd. But not so much for science and education.

As Neil deGrasse Tyson explains above. "That Pink Floyd had an album with that title meant I spent decades having to undo [that fact] as an educator." That's because "there is no dark side of the moon." "There's a far side and there's a near." "But all sides of the moon receive sunlight across the month."




To delve deeper into this, it's worth reading this short article (Mythbusters: Is There Really a Dark Side of the Moon?) from Yale Scientific Magazine. There, they elaborate:

No matter where we are on Earth, we see and always have seen only one face of the moon. Since the moon rotates on its axis in the same amount of time that it takes the body to orbit our planet, the same half face of the moon is consistently exposed to viewers on Earth. This timing is caused by a phenomenon called tidal locking, which occurs when a larger astronomical body (Earth) exerts a strong gravitational pull on a smaller body (the moon), forcing one side of the smaller body to always face the larger one....

[T]he fact that we earthlings cannot see the far side of the moon does not mean that this face is never exposed to sunlight. In fact, the far side of the moon is no more and no less dark than the hemisphere we do see.

Get the rest here.

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Artist Draws 9 Portraits While on LSD: Inside the 1950s Experiments to Turn LSD into a “Creativity Pill”

LSD was first synthesized in 1938 by chemist Albert Hoffman in a Swiss laboratory but only attained infamy almost two decades later, when it became part of a series of government experiments. At the same time, a UC Irvine psychiatrist, Oscar Janiger (“Oz” to his friends), conducted his own studies under very different circumstances. “Unlike most researchers, Janiger wanted to create a ‘natural’ setting,” writes Brandy Doyle for MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies). He reasoned that “there was nothing especially neutral about a laboratory or hospital room,” so he “rented a house outside of LA, in which his subjects could have a relatively non-directed experience in a supportive environment.”

Janiger wanted his subjects to make creative discoveries in a state of heightened consciousness. The study sought, he wrote, to “illuminate the phenomenological nature of the LSD experience,” to see whether the drug could effectively be turned into a creativity pill. He found, over a period lasting from 1954 to 1962 (when the experiments were terminated), that among his approximately 900 subjects, those who were in therapy “had a high rate of positive response,” but those not in therapy “found the experience much less pleasant.” Janiger’s findings have contributed to the research that organizations like MAPS have done on psychoactive drugs in therapeutic settings. The experiments also produced a body of artwork made by study participants on acid.

Janiger invited over 100 professional artists into the study and had them produce over 250 paintings and drawings. The series of eight drawings you see here most likely came from one of those artists (though “the records of the identity of the principle researcher have been lost,” writes LiveScience). In the psych-rock-scored video at the top see the progression of increasingly abstract drawings the artist made over the course of his 8-hour trip. He reported on his perceptions and sensations throughout the experience, noting, at what seems to be the drug’s peak moment at 2.5 and 3 hours in, “I feel that my consciousness is situated in the part of my body that’s active—my hand, my elbow, my tongue…. I am… everything is… changed… they’re calling… your face… interwoven… who is….”

Trippy, but there’s much more to the experiment than its immediate effects on artists’ brains and sketches. As Janiger’s colleague Marlene Dobkin de Rios writes in her definitive book on his work, “all of the artists who participated in Janiger’s project said that LSD not only radically changed their style but also gave them new depths to understand the use of color, form, light, or the way these things are viewed in a frame of reference. Their art, they claimed, changed its essential character as a consequence of their experiences.” Psychologist Stanley Krippner made similar discoveries, and “defined the term psychedelic artist” to describe those who, as in Janiger’s studies “gained a far greater insight into the nature of art and the aesthetic idea,” Dobkin de Rios writes.

Artistic productions—paintings, poems, sketches, and writings that stemmed from the experience—often show a radical departure from the artist’s customary mode of expression… the artists’ general opinion was that their work became more expressionistic and demonstrated a vastly greater degree of freedom and originality.

The work of the unknown artist here takes on an almost mystical quality after a while. The project began “serendipitously” when one of Janiger’s volunteers in 1954 insisted on being able to draw during the dosing. “After his LSD experience,” writes Dobkin de Rios, “the artist was very emphatic that it would be most revealing to allow other artists to go through this process of perceptual change.” Janiger was convinced, as were many of his more famous test subjects.

Janiger reportedly introduced LSD to Cary Grant, Anais Nin, Jack Nicholson, and Aldous Huxley during guided therapy sessions. Still, he is not nearly as well-known as other LSD pioneers like Ken Kesey and Timothy Leary, in part because, writes the psychoactive research site Erowid, “his data remained largely unpublished during his lifetime," and he was not himself an artist or media personality (though he was a cousin of Allen Ginsberg).

Janiger not only changed the consciousness of unnamed and famous artists with LSD, but also experimented with DMT with Alan Watts and fellow psychiatrist Humphry Osmond (who coined the word “psychedelic”), and conducted research on peyote with Dobkin de Rios. To a great degree, we have him to thank (or blame) for the explosion of psychedelic art and philosophy that flowed out of the early sixties and indelibly changed the culture. At LiveScience, you can see a slideshow of these drawings with commentary from Yale physician Andrew Sewell on what might be happening in the tripping artist's brain.

Note: IAI Academy has just released a short course called The Science of Psychedelics. You can enroll in it here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

An Animated Look at Vladimir Nabokov’s Passion for Butterfly Collecting: “Literature & Butterflies Are the Two Sweetest Passions Known to Man”

Literature and butterflies are the two sweetest passions known to man. - Vladimir Nabokov

A 1941 family road trip along Route 66 planted the seeds for Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita.

It also enriched the American Museum of Natural History’s butterfly collection by some 300 North American specimens.

The author, an avid amateur lepidopterist, indulged his hobby along the way, depositing butterflies collected on this and other trips in glassine envelopes labeled with the name of the towns where the creatures encountered his net. Upon his return, he decided to donate most of his haul to the museum’s Lepidoptera collection, where he was as an eager volunteer.




Years later, Suzanne Rab Green, a Tiger Moth specialist and assistant curator at the museum, uncovered Nabokov’s specimens packed in a vintage White Owl cigar box.

Recognizing that this collection had literary value as well as scientific, Green decided to sort it by location rather than species, preserving the carefully hand-lettered envelopes along with the fragile wings and thoraxes.

Using Google Earth, she retraced Nabokov’s 3-week journey for the museum’s Shelf Life series, digitally pinning his finds alongside vintage postcards of Gettysburg, Yosemite National Park, and the Grande Tourist Lodge in Dallas, Texas—all fertile collection sites, at least in 1941.

Butterflies remained a lifelong obsession for the author. He served for six years as curator of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology’s Lepidoptera wing and developed an evolutionary theory related to his study of the Polyommatus blues Green mentions in the 360° video above. (Be aware, the 360° feature will not work in Safari).

He also wooed his wife, Vera, by making charming and keenly observed drawings of butterflies for her.

An avowed enemy of symbols and allegory, Nabokov prevented butterflies from occupying too significant a role in his fictional oeuvre, though he gushed unabashedly in his memoir, Speak, Memory:

Let me also evoke the hawkmoths, the jets of my boyhood! Colors would die a long death on June evenings. The lilac shrubs in full bloom before which I stood, net in hand, displayed clusters of a fluffy gray in the dark—the ghost of purple. A moist young moon hung above the mist of a neighboring meadow. In many a garden have I stood thus in later years—in Athens, Antibes, Atlanta—but never have I waited with such a keen desire as before those darkening lilacs. And suddenly it would come, the low buzz passing from flower to flower, the vibrational halo around the streamlined body of an olive and pink Hummingbird moth poised in the air above the corolla into which it had dipped its long tongue…. Through the gusty blackness, one’s lantern would illumine the stickily glistening furrows of the bark and two or three large moths upon it imbibing the sweets, their nervous wings half open butterfly fashion, the lower ones exhibiting their incredible crimson silk from beneath the lichen-gray primaries. “Catocala adultera!” I would triumphantly shriek in the direction of the lighted windows of the house as I stumbled home to show my captures to my father.

Despite the author’s stated distaste for overt symbolism, a few butterflies did manage to flutter onto the pages of his best known work, resulting in at least one thesis papers that makes a case for Lolita as butterfly—irresistible, beautiful, easily ensnared….

Did I ever mention that her bare arm bore the 8 of vaccination? That I loved her hopelessly? That she was only fourteen? An inquisitive butterfly passed, dipping, between us.

- Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov, 1955

Track Nabokov's cross-country butterfly collecting trip, courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History, here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

36 Abstract Covers of Vintage Psychology, Philosophy & Science Books Come to Life in a Mesmerizing Animation

Animated ebook covers are the wave of the future.

Graphic and motion designer Henning M. Lederer surfs that wave on the most unexpected of boards—a collection of abstract mid-century covers drawn from the Instagram feed of artist Julian Montague, who shares his enthusiasm for vintage minimalism.

Lederer first came to our attention in 2015, when we covered the first installment of what seems destined to become an ongoing project.




His latest effort, above, continues his explorations in the subjects which most frequently traded in these sorts of geometric covers—science, psychotherapy, philosophy and sociology.

No word on what inspired him to toss in the first cover, which features a cheerful, Playmobil-esque mushroom gatherer. It's endearing, but—to quote Sesame Street—is not like the others. Those of us who can’t decipher Cyrillic script get the fun of imagining what sort of text this is—a mycology manual? A children’s tale? A psychological examination—and ultimately rejection—of midcentury publishers’ fascination for spirals, diagonal bars, and other non-narrative graphics?

Whether or not you’d be inclined to pick up any of these titles, you may find yourself wanting to dance to them, compliments of musician Jörg Stierle’s trippy electronics.

Or take your cue from yet another cover  contained therein: I. P. Pavlov’s Essays in Psychology and Psychiatry with a Special Section on Sleep and Hypnosis.

Here’s the one that started it all:

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Graphic Shows the House Plants That Naturally Clean the Air in Your Home, According to a NASA Study

This is a quick public service announcement. If you believe in science and facts, read on.

Back in the 1980s, NASA published a research report called "Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement" that grappled with a particular problem: Many modern buildings (particularly office buildings) have become so well insulated and hermetically sealed that they allow for little "free air exchange." As a result, toxins build up in these buildings (for example, from the off gassing of furniture) and the inhabitants eventually pay a price.




In response, NASA looked for natural ways to clean up these sealed spaces (like the International Space Station), particularly by availing themselves of the natural air filtering properties of everyday house plants:

In this study the leaves, roots, soil, and associated microorganisms of plants have been evaluated as a possible means of reducing indoor air pollutants. Additionally, a novel approach of using plant systems for removing high concentrations of indoor air pollutants such as cigarette smoke, organic solvents, and possibly radon has been designed from this work. This air filter design combines plants with an activated carbon filter as shown in Figure 1. The rationale for this design, which evolved from wastewater treatment studies, is based on moving large volumes of contaminated air through an activated carbon bed where smoke, organic chemicals, pathogenic microorganisms (if present), and possibly radon are absorbed by the carbon filter. Plant roots and their associated microorganisms then destroy the pathogenic viruses, bacteria, and the organic chemicals, eventually converting all of these air pollutants into new plant tissue.(31"37) It is believed that the decayed radon products would be taken up by the plant roots and retained in the plant tissue.

You can read the rest of the study here. And, above, find a graphic (created by LovetheGarden) that visualizes the results of the NASA study, showing which particular plants will reduce air pollution in your office and home.

For good measure, we've also added below a short video where researcher Kamal Meattle "shows how an arrangement of three common houseplants, used in specific spots in a home or office building, can result in measurably cleaner indoor air."

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